Over the last three days, I watched all eight episodes of Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Unlike their original works, this one is based on the children’s book series by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. Going in, I knew some details about the series. Back in the day, I saw the 2004 movie adaptation with Jim Carrey in theaters. It inspired me to look into the series and read up summaries of all 13 books. I even bought the first book to see what changes they made for myself. So, I was very interested to see what I considered to be a long overdue second adaptation was being made. What did I think of it? Well, before I get into it, I’ll give a brief summary of the story.
Violet, Klaus, and their baby sister Sunny live a happy, wealthy life with their parents, the Baudelaires. One day, they’re given the awful news that their parents have died in a house fire, leaving the three as orphans. Under the watchful eye of family friend Mr. Poe, the children are sent to live with their closest guardian, Count Olaf. But Olaf is out to get the Baudelaire fortune they’ve inherited and will do anything to accomplish his goal. Violet, Klaus and Sunny must evade him at every turn, all while discovering that their parents may have been leading a secret life. Will the children manage to get away from Olaf once and for all and figure out the mystery behind their parents’ death?
As I mentioned, there were 13 books in the series, so this show opted to cover the first four in two-part episodes at a time. I found this helped the pacing a bit and having two episodes per book made for some practical stopping points (I tend to spread Netflix series out). Much like with the movie, I enjoyed the bleak, almost gothic-looking sets. They fit the mood perfectly and the creators seemed to take great pains to bring the locations in the books to life. While I was a little thrown off at first by some of the more colorful sets presented here, it did offset a lot of the gloomier locales. If there’s one complaint I had about any of the aesthetics, it was the blatant use of CGI in places. It wasn’t always the best and stood out in contrast to everything else, but the worst was probably Aunt Josephine’s house being destroyed. In the movie, a lot of it looked practical and they played around with a few of her irrational fears coming to life. In the series, the CGI is obvious and the kids are clearly on wires. It also felt like it happened in the blink of an eye and just didn’t seem as destructive as the movie’s take on it. It might also bug people how inconsistent the era is. One minute it appears like it’s taking place in the 1920’s or so, but then references to the internet or Uber will be made. It can be annoying, but I found it didn’t pull me out of this world all that often.
Going in, I knew this series planned to be more faithful to the books than the movie was (especially with Daniel Handler assisting with it), and it definitely shows. Sure, movies can only be so long and liberties have to be taken, but I love how this series took its time to flesh out each story. There are repetitive elements to each story, but it was still fun to see what crazy adventures the Baudelaires would get into next. However, at times the show felt like it was pandering a little too much to its audience. They make the backstory of the parents and various references to the books a little more in-your-face than I expected, as if they needed to spell things out so people would be able to follow along. Despite that, I really like how they tied in the backstory, which is more of a subplot, with each main plot from the books. I’m crossing my fingers that this series is fully adapted, because I can’t wait to see how everything plays out.
But the biggest draw of this show for me was the characters. Whether I loved or hated them, they carried these stories and got me invested in the overarching mystery. Let’s start with the characters I loved. At first, I wasn’t impressed with Violet, Klaus and Sunny. Sunny tends to also be CGI’d due to her extreme biting habits, so it was a bit weird to get used to. Violet and Klaus came off a little too snobby to me, even as rich kids. Thankfully, once they’re sent to Olaf’s, they got to show off more range and quickly grew on me as the series progressed. The same could be said about Olaf’s theater troupe. They essentially act as his henchmen as well as comic relief to, I suppose, make him look smarter in comparison. But unlike the movie, they’re each given little quirks to set them apart. They served a purpose and actually felt like supporting characters. I also enjoyed the children’s first real guardian, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery (no, that’s not a typo). I’ve always liked Aasif Mandvi, and while I had to get over the initial “Hey, that’s Aasif!” reaction from seeing him, I really liked his performance. I did like Billy Connolly in the movie as well, but Aasif has way more to do and comes across as a stronger Monty because of it. He’s likable, smart (mostly), and resourceful. I also enjoy Catherine O’Hara’s Georgina Orwell, a conniving, villainous woman who has a history with Olaf. I had already liked her take on Justice Strauss in the movie, so seeing her back in this universe was more than welcome.
Before I move on to the characters I didn’t like, I have to talk about the two characters that really kept me invested in this show: Lemony Snicket and Count Olaf. I thought it was strange at first to see Patrick Warburton playing such a somber, almost subtle role. I’m so used to him in comedic roles that it was a little jarring at first. He also spoke some of his narration a little too quickly at times. But despite all that, I loved him in this. I loved how they had Lemony show up on screen as an invisible narrator, the kind that no one in the story can see but the audience can. He presents lines from the book with a tinge of emotion but doesn’t overplay any of it. I was very impressed with him and I’d be interested to see him take on more serious roles. As for Count Olaf, I knew from the get-go that I’d enjoy Neil Patrick Harris’s take on it. I’ve always loved NPH for his charisma and talent, and I’ve wanted to see him play a full-blown villain since Dr. Horrible. I still have to give Jim Carrey props for bringing the role to life in the first place. He had a menace that often came from how he could switch from being extremely goofy to semi-serious in an instant. But having rewatched parts of the movie, I’ve realized that he’s just too comedic for me to personally find threatening. NPH, on the other hand, is able to bring out Olaf’s dark side and appear imposing. He still gets his goofy moments, as Olaf isn’t the genius he thinks he is, and he pulls off Olaf’s various fake personas pretty well. The show left me wanting more from him and I consider that a great sign.
As for characters I didn’t like, there honestly weren’t that many. I kept going back and forth on liking and disliking Joan Cusack’s take on Justice Strauss. While she had some pretty good emotional moments near the end, I found her rambling a little annoying at times. I also preferred Meryl Streep’s performance as Aunt Josephine over Alfre Woodard’s. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Alfre in “Heart & Souls” and “Luke Cage.” But I feel she went too over the top when she was being dramatic and underplayed the character’s paranoid/nervousness. However, while the movie followed the book’s ending for the character to a T, I never was a fan of it. This series takes liberty with that ending, and I found it was the only time I preferred this Josephine. Mr. Poe is also insanely irritating. The actor does a fine enough job, but the character is so moronic and has a never-ending, grating cough that it’s hard to like him. Occasionally, he’ll have a bit of clarity and do something smart, but it’s always undercut by him doing or saying something stupid. He never believes the Baudelaires and is always unable to see past Olaf’s disguises. I hope he’s not as big of a factor in the next season, though the series ending seems to imply he won’t be. Surprisingly, though, it’s his WIFE that is my most despised character. She doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but she’s so insensitive and such a headline-obsessed reporter that I can’t stand her. She gets ONE decent moment with her husband near the end of the series, but I’m just hoping this is the last we’ll see of her.
Overall, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” has its hooks in me. I want it to continue to see where the story goes and see what other depressing adventures these characters end up in. This isn’t going to be for everyone, though. Whether you’ve read the books or not, your enjoyment really depends on if these characters and their stories interest you. I’d argue it’s best seen in chunks thanks to it being somewhat repetitive and also pretty bleak. Thankfully, the tone does tend to range from dark to quirky, so binge-watching it is still possible. In my case, I’m still happy to see another version of these stories beyond the movie. I always appreciate children’s books that treat their audience seriously and aren’t afraid to go a little dark as a result. This is one series I feel was begging to be given another chance at being adapted, and I’m hoping others feel the same way and support it.